Alexander – May has questions to answer over Brexit transition inconsistencies

The Prime Minister has serious questions to answer after she made inconsistent statements about the nature of the Brexit transitional arrangements the Government seeks to negotiate with the EU, Labour MP and Open Britain supporter Heidi Alexander says in a letter today. 

In her Florence speech, Theresa May conceded that any transitional period after Brexit in March 2019 would be needed, and that it should follow “the existing structure of rules and regulations”. May, Philip Hammond and David Davis have all said that businesses should face only one set of changes – from the transitional state to the new relationship. This means Britain will seek a status quo transition, remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union, despite the fact that this would require remaining under the direct jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

However, the Open Britain campaign has identified six times in recent days that Theresa May and others in Government have made statements that contradict this policy on transition. These are outlined in the letter:

  • Responding to a question by Heidi Alexander MP at PMQs today, Theresa May said: “[W]hen we leave the European Union in March 2019, we will cease to be full members of the Single Market and the Customs Union. That will happen because you cannot be full members of the Single Market and the Custom Union without accepting all four pillars ... free movement, continued in perpetuity ECJ jurisdiction.” This is clearly inconsistent with a status quo transition, in which we would need to accept the four freedoms.
  • Responding to a separate question today at PMQs, she said that “when we leave the European Union, we will leave the Common Fisheries Policy”. It is hard to see how this is consistent with retaining “the existing structure of rules and regulations” during transition.
  • The Prime Minister and others have repeatedly said that Britain will be free to negotiate new free trade agreements during a transition period. But this aim appears to be inconsistent with the Common Commercial Policy, and is therefore also difficult to square with the principle of retaining “the existing structure of rules and regulations”.
  • On 24 September David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, said that after March 2019 the UK will be “outside the European law” during the transition period. This is clearly inconsistent with the principle May outlined in Florence.
  • In response to a parliamentary question yesterday, Undersecretary of State Robin Walker MP said: "After withdrawal, the UK will take back control of its laws ... After we leave the EU, Parliament or, where appropriate, the devolved legislatures, will be free to change the law where they decide it is right to do so." Again, this suggests that Department for Exiting the EU believes we will be outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which is not consistent with what May said.
  • And on 2 October, Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the House Commons, said that the “four freedoms end in 2019.” Again, this is entirely inconsistent with what May has said about EU citizens retaining the freedom to come here during transition.

In her letter to Theresa May, Heidi Alexander MP, leading supporter of Open Britain, writes:

“These inconsistencies matter because they exacerbate the uncertainty and anxiety being felt by people and businesses across the UK.

“It also sends a message across the EU that the Government is saying one thing to our negotiating partners, and something else entirely to domestic audiences, and that ministers are given free rein to say what they like. This, of course, further raises the risk of a complete breakdown in the Article 50 negotiations, and of a disastrous no deal Brexit.”

/ends

 

Notes to editors:

The full letter from Heidi Alexander MP to Theresa May follows:

Dear Prime Minister,

Further to my question to you in the House of Commons earlier today, I am writing to seek clarification about the Government’s position on a transitional period following Britain’s anticipated formal departure from the EU in March 2019.

You made very clear in your Florence speech that you believe the framework for such a transitional period should be “the existing structure of rules and regulations”. Although I believe it is the wrong decision for this country to leave the Single Market and Customs Union after that period, I agree that retaining the exact same rules and regulations for a period beyond March 2019 is vital for providing certainty for people and businesses. As you, the Chancellor and the Brexit Secretary have rightly pointed out, it does not make sense for anybody to have to plan for more than one set of changes.

I was therefore surprised by the answer you gave to my question about whether you want the UK to remain in the Single Market and Customs Union during transition. You said:

“[W]hen we leave the European Union in March 2019, we will cease to be full members of the Single Market and the Customs Union. That will happen because you cannot be full members of the Single Market and the Custom Union without accepting all four pillars ... free movement, continued in perpetuity ECJ jurisdiction.”

This suggests, contrary to your Florence speech (and contrary to the EU’s very clear negotiating position) that you believe the UK will not have to apply the four freedoms during a transition period. I would be grateful if you could provide clarification on this point.

This is not the only area of confusion that has emerged about your position on the transition period since the Florence speech. There have been at least five further examples which I believe also require clarification.

  • Responding to a separate question today at PMQs you said that “when we leave the European Union, we will leave the Common Fisheries Policy”. It is hard to see how this is consistent with retaining “the existing structure of rules and regulations” during transition.
  • You and other ministers have repeatedly said that Britain will be free to negotiate new free trade agreements during a transition period. But this aim appears to be inconsistent with the Common Commercial Policy, and is therefore also difficult to square with the principle of retaining “the existing structure of rules and regulations”.
  • On 24 September David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, said that after March 2019 the UK will be “outside the European law” during the transition period.[1] This is clearly inconsistent with the principle you outlined in Florence.
  • In response to a parliamentary question yesterday, Undersecretary of State Robin Walker MP said: "After withdrawal, the UK will take back control of its laws ... After we leave the EU, Parliament or, where appropriate, the devolved legislatures, will be free to change the law where they decide it is right to do so."[2] Again, this suggests that Department for Exiting the EU believes we will be outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which is not consistent with what you said.
  • And on 2 October, Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the House Commons, said that the “four freedoms end in 2019.”[3] Again, this is entirely inconsistent with what you have said about EU citizens retaining the freedom to come here during transition.

These inconsistencies matter because they exacerbate the uncertainty and anxiety being felt by people and businesses across the UK.

It also sends a message across the EU that the Government is saying one thing to our negotiating partners, and something else entirely to domestic audiences, and that ministers are given free rein to say what they like. This, of course, further raises the risk of a complete breakdown in the Article 50 negotiations, and of a disastrous no deal Brexit.

To avoid further confusion about your position on a transition period, I would be grateful if you could provide clarification with respect to each of the inconsistencies highlighted above.

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Heidi Alexander MP